Tag Archives: Bibliophilia

Pepys’ Book Presses – 350th Anniversary year

Follow the link below for a really interesting post on Samuel Pepys’ book presses, the first of their kind! I worked at the Pepys Library for almost a year and never got tired of looking at those lovely pieces of practical furniture (the books inside were pretty good too). I heartily recommend a visit to anyone, it’s a wonderful, wonderful place (and FREE!!!):

Source: 350th Anniversary year

Advertisements

The Eagle Bookshop -an historical adventure

The Eagle Bookshop on a sunny day

A good second-hand bookshop is balm to the soul for those of us who love research and love books. While the internet has widened access to out-of-print books, it is no substitute for the feeling of browsing in a real shop. The element of chance, of serendipitous discovery, when perusing the eclectic stock of  independent bookshops is what it is all about. Continue reading

Bibliophilia – Fighting Fantasy

No Paris Hilton this time, I promise. Instead I think its time for another bout of bibliophilia, a series of posts in which I dive into the dusty realms of the bookshelf for inspiration and discuss the primary symptom of the disease, our papery friend the musty old book. This time I give you a guilty secret (though perhaps not surprising given my already professed love for the hobbit): Fighting Fantasy.

.

.

As it says in the blurb the Fighting Fantasy series of books were choose-your-own adventures that were:

.

.

Who me? How could 10 year old Gentleman Administrator resist the temptation? Plus unlike actual role-playing games they were so simple to play, particularly as:

.

.

Of course I’ve since discovered that constantly having to make decisions is one aspect of being an adult that wears thin pretty bloody quickly, particularly as you can’t leave your thumb in a previous page in order to cheat in real life. Actually, I’m still pretty convinced that most major decisions should be made with the aid of two dice, a pencil and an eraser.

.

The books were written and designed by Ian Livingstone (some with Steve Jackson) in the early 1980s. Ian Livingstone was a stalwart of the Role Playing Game (RPG) game world when I was a child, having been the founder of Games Workshop. He was also one of the founders of computer games giant Eidos, which brought us the Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series of games as well as Championship Manager, the football management simulation game. On reflection it’s fair to say that over the years, and more than any other single factor, Ian Livingstone is to blame for a considerable proportion of the wasted hours and determined under achievement in my life. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

.

The books inhabit the wonderful, generic Tolkein-revival fantasy world of the late 1970s that gave birth to role-playing games and a cornucopia of fantasy titles with trippy artwork and illustrations. The artwork of the Fighting Fantasy books were a key factor in their appeal to me. The internal illustrations of ‘The Forest of Doom’ were drawn by Malcolm Barter and punctuate the book at crucial moments, bringing the tale to life:

.

Illustration by Malcolm Barter

.

The ‘Forest of Doom’ is the one copy I’ve held onto over the years for two reasons. The first is that I remember exactly when I first played it, as I was off school sick with one of my annual childhood bouts of influenza. I’m not exactly sure how I’d got a copy as my parents were quite opposed to fantasy books and role-playing games having recently become evangelical christians. They would not have been pleased with my choice of literature. I can distinctly remember being huddled on my bedroom floor, wrapped in a duvet, clandestinely and feverishly dipping my toe into this dark and dangerous quest. The sense of risk (the role of a dice!) and achievement (killed the forest giant, Yes!) was palpable at the time. The second reason that this particular edition sticks in my head is the front cover illustration by Iain McCaig (see above). Aside from being a great bit of art I was genuinely frightened by the picture of the changeling, I mean it’s looking straight at me… We all know how children love to be scared and that illustration has stuck with me as a cherished childhood memory (ok, ok it still freaks me out *turns book over and continued typing*).

.

The funny thing is I never really graduated onto proper desktop role-playing games, but I suspect my initial love of interactive fiction is the root of my later, and ongoing, love affair with computer games.  So, having tested you luck and rolled a three, turn to 2:

.

.

Damnit, I forgot to put my thumb in the page *grabs rubber and flicks back to the beginning*.

.

Bibliophilia – Archaeology

Francis Celoria - Archaeology

.

Carrying on the last post’s musings on the influence of archaeology, I came across this book on my bookshelf which I’ve kept since I was 12 and I thought I’d share some of its joys. The book is ‘Archaeology’ by Francis Celoria a ‘Hamlyn all-colour paperback’ (though oddly it’s a hardback). I got my copy when my school was throwing out a whole bunch of books which they had spread out on a table in case anyone wanted one. Rooting through the pile I remember coming across this one and thinking the front cover was very cool and mysterious. I like my books to feel well used (see here for my previous post on my copy of the Hobbit) and I’m a big fan of ex-library books, which is probably why this has hung around on the shelves so long. This one found its way to me via the Leicestershire and Rutland County Library as well as my School library.

.

The book itself is surprisingly comprehensive given its diminutive size. It gallops through prehistoric times illustrating how material artefacts have informed us about each period and even has a chapter on the history and practice of archaeology. What makes it great though are the illustrations. The book was published in the 1970s and the illustrations reflect the time period beautifully. Here for example is the classic Mesolithic woman (modelling a stag-tooth necklace for us):

.

Mesolithic Women looked suspiciously like Bridget Bardot

.

My goodness Mesolithic women were well manicured, I’m pretty sure that’s a Dior Stag-Tooth necklace. Accompanying the chapter on practising archaeology  are these guides on ‘how not to’, and ‘how to’ undertake a ‘modern’ dig:

.

Insert: A professional Problem Centred Dig

.

CHAOS! from poor direction and untrained people

.

Cups of tea? At an archaeological dig? It’s a disgrace. Actually it was 24 years too early but perhaps we could add in Baldrick clambering over the trench as well? The final image I want to show you is genius and I don’t know how it failed to convince me to become an archaeologist:

.

Now look here old bean... "The archaeologist needs to goodwill of all"

.

Bibliophilia – The Hobbit

I am a bibliophile. And before torches are lit and pitchforks raised, this means I love books. This is probably obvious from the fact that I buy books faster than I read them, in fact sometime I never read them. This is why I was so upset when I discovered this in August. There is one book in my ‘collection’ (it’s not that impressive) which I cherish more than the others: my 1971 copy of The Hobbit.

The Hobbit - Copy from 1971

The Hobbit - Spine

The copy was already dog-eared when I stole it from my brother, aged 10, and it has been through the mill ever since. But it is the crumbly, well-read feel of this book that makes it so special. I can remember the origin of many of the blotches and blemishes, the tears and scuffs, and each of them adds to the story of the book as a physical, personal object. Every time I pick the book up the oddly perfumed aroma takes me back to that day in 1989 when a bottle of Imperial Leather shower gel was spilt over the bookshelf.

The Hobbit with Blemishes

The Hobbit - with Imperial leather stain evident at bottom of page

The antique nature added to the appeal of this book and seemed to fit the story within; the ancient maps, hidden runes, the mouldering forests. As a ten year old boy who was largely lost in his own imagination (I pity my poor teachers) the story was a revelation and kicked off a lifelong love of books.

I don’t think I need to say much about the story itself, though I think it’s a shame that in some ways it has been overshadowed by J.R.R. Tolkien’s later work; The Lord of the Rings. It is a wonderful children’s book and contains more than enough wit and sophistication for any adult to enjoy even if they had no childhood experience of it. Indeed, ignoring it will be a hard thing to do soon as the film adaptation will start rolling cameras next year, and after that point it will be omnipresent. For anyone interested in news of the book adaptation then www.theonering.net is a good bet. Current rumours of Stephen Fry’s involvement are intriguing, let’s hope he plays Bilbo.

For those of you already convinced by The Hobbits merits I would strongly recommend ‘The History of the Hobbit’ series by John D. Rateliff. In these two volumes Rateliff goes back to the original Tolkien manuscripts, comparing and contrasting the versions and providing a lively and informed commentary on its history and providence.